07 December 2013

The Answer Is Catalina

Catalina Island, with its 12 inches (30 cm) of rainfall annually is the location of the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. The island was mostly bought and owned by the chewing gum tycoon Wrigley, who even forced his Chicago Cubs into using the location for their spring baseball training.

With 20 (32 km) miles long by 8 miles wide (13 km) at the maximums, the island is 90% owned and managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy. This nonprofit was set up by the Wrigley family heirs to conserve and preserve the island. Most all is in a natural state, and access outside the town of Avalon is restricted -- like a futuristic scenario, you need a pass to get beyond the fence at the city limits.

Avalon is pedestrian friendly and very walkable (except when a cruise ship dumped its crowd of passengers one day), with the number of cars limited on the island. Most vehicles are golf carts and bicycles.

The garden was started by Ada Wrigley in 1935 as a personal garden containing exotic cactus. It was transformed into a botanical garden by a foundation in 1970 with an emphasis on succulents and cactus, and on the rare endangered plants endemic to Catalina and the other Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California.

Landscaping bedding plants in town done with succulents, agave, and a date palm or two

Dessert Spoon Dasylirion wheeleri

The Wrigley Memorial served as Mr. Wrigley's tomb until he was moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery

Catalina Island Ironwood tree endemic to the island

Closeup of the bark on the Catalina Island Ironwood

The 'Casino' theater, art deco interior with scenes of plants, animals, and activities of the island

Four keyboards on its great theater organ

An excursion trip to the island's interior brought this view looking toward the mainland

23 November 2013

Guess Where This Place Is

A few days before an annual out of town convention gave an opportunity for late summer relaxing on a quick vacation near the convention town. Of course, a trip to the local botanical garden was something that I couldn't miss, but almost did. Succulents and cactus were not high on the priority list like snorkeling, kayaking, ghost walks, and hiking.

But on the last day having checked off everything else, I headed to the botanical garden. Whoa! I was happily surprised with plants very new to me and weird - like two story high yuccas. Many reminded me of the landscape in the backgrounds of the Flintstones. Does anyone know where this place is? Go ahead and take a guess. No, it is not Bedrock.

Let's try some large photos on the blog this time.

Opuntia streptacantha. I think I had one of these growing on my window sill in college, but not as a tree.

Aeonium arboreum. This could be the star of the latest Alien movie. Is this a plant?

Could this be a sunburned aloe?

Furcraea macdougalii. These poor souls from the agave family looked scared.

Dracaena draco. This is a dragon tree - no one can figure out why it's called that. :-)

Crassula falcata. One of the only flowering specimens in the garden.

Acacia decurrens or Green Wattle. Ah, finally. A tree with leaves. Leaves?

Sunburn anyone? A 5-foot tall (1.5 m) aloe can help.

And one last cactus, only 6-feet tall (1.8 m) because I believe it fell over.

10 November 2013

Tissues, Dams, And Eyeballs

Last weekend was a perfect day for hiking. In an effort to experience the changing season away from the outer urban life, a few friends planned a hike and light picnic in the National Park Service's Prince William Forest near Quantico. The clowns on the Hill decided that they screwed up the country enough, so the park (federal government) was reopened once again in time for the weekend.

This was one of those outdoor scenic places you live near but have never visited. With too many trails to manage in one day, the beaver dams and the waterfalls were decided as the goals. We drove to a parking area and set out, armed with directions from the ranger in the visitor center. Let us share observations.

Fallen leaves are great at hiding the trails. We missed trail turn-offs three times. This caused a backtrack once, and hiking another mile or so more than we planned after missing two more.

When it looks like someone littered the trail with a tissue, assume the best in humanity -- that you are actually looking at a fungus.

Behind the dam was a small wetland. Note the evergreen hollies around the perimeter of the water while deciduous trees grow further up the slope.

We did not come across any beaver dams, unless they have modernized with reinforce concrete. The park was a hotbed of Civilian Conservation Corp construction in the 30s. Maybe the dam was part of that handiwork, or the Mayan were in town.

There was something about this area that was very serene with the lime green seedlings growing along the floor that the deer did not devour.

Fallen leaves, mostly oak and maple, were holey in one area.

It took a good eye to find eyeballs growing on the forest floor. Ever seen this type of fungus staring back at you?

There were no waterfalls, but a few babbling brooks. Maybe 'city dwellers' consider waterfalls as any stream that makes noise.

28 October 2013

Favorite Cheap Plant

I was at the spring Strawberry Festival in Delaplane Virginia two years ago, with its bluegrass bands, raptors, food booths, organ grinder monkey, and craft vendors. The bluegrass and raptors were great, as was the kettle corn and strawberry shortcake booths. Between all the country rag dolls and tree stump clocks and chairs there was a plant vendor literally tucked into the corner.

Containers of strawberries were being scarfed up at incredibly high prices. And the containers were labeled Driscoll's just like those in the local supermarkets. I asked if Driscoll's supplied the containers for free. "No, Driscoll's grew the strawberries in California." Strawberry harvest time in Virginia can vary widely, so to be sure there are strawberries available for the festival, they are flown in from California. We stopped at a farm on the way home to field pick our own from local growers.

Back at the plant vendor and looking for something cheap, I ended up at the small-potted herbs and succulents table. I picked up a pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), and was informed about its care and planting instructions. Only a few dollars buys chartreuse leaves with a pineapple fragrance. "Be sure to take cuttings in the fall, or repot it and bring it indoors to keep it going."

It went into the side yard garden where it comfortably grew during the summer. Then in the late fall, these incredible 12-inch (30 cm) red spires appeared above the leaves, just as the world turns mums and orange. Is it the contrast against the lime green leaves that cause the red to jump out?

Repot in the fall? Sure, right. All the dead things are being ripped out of the garden and football calls on the weekend. Spring bulbs are lucky to get planted the week before Christmas. Still, leaves were raked, chopped, and spread around the beds for the winter.

It grows up to 3-feet in height (1 m) as a bush in its native Mexico highlands where hummingbirds love it. In the salvia genus, it is used in traditional Mexican medicine, for anxiety and high blood pressure treatment. A preliminary study shows antidepressant and antianxiety properties in mice. The internet presents concoctions for teas made from the leaves, and P. Allen Smith has a recipe for Pineapple Sage Pound Cake.

This spring, the little cheap pineapple sage came back. And, it had two babies from seeds or rooted from fallen stems. Does it like me or what?

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with gypsum & organic amendments
  • Full sun on a sloping site
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease
  • Overwintered with small amount of protection

21 October 2013

October 2013 Flowers In The House

For this month, a few goodies were picked up from the garden and brought indoors. It was a cool day, -- perfect to be indoors making minestrone soup with fresh carrots from the garden while watching the Redskins entertain. These beauties were the best carrots ever.

I tried growing them again this spring after laying off for a number of years. Year after year of growing stunted balls of carrots was demoralizing. I took to preparing the soil over the years and determined to succeed, I tried again. Looks like the effort paid off as the carrots were long and the soil was soft enough to pull them up. Some remain in the garden, and of course some were proudly offered to the neighbors.

The autumn vase is for the kitchen countertop while chopping the soup's vegetables. This is aroma therapy. The chartreuse leaves of red fall-blooming pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) spices up the kitchen, along with a few sprigs of lavender. The yellow Canary zinnias add autumn to the kitchen. A few of the tricolor ornamental peppers add some bite, and of course, some fern-like carrot tops. Visit more Flowers In The House at Jane's blog Small But Charming.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, zinnia, marigolds, pineapple sage, rain lilies
  • Harvested: 2 peppers, 2 tomato, 10 carrots

12 October 2013


There is one in every crowd. In every neighborhood. In every rudbeckia bed? A black sheep that stands out.

This summer the third-year bed of rudbeckia (Rudbeckia hirta) sprouted a few mutant plants. I am not sure if these germinated from seed, or were one of the survivors mutating after their overwinter thing. Do these reseed themselves? Do buckets of pulled-up rudbeckia seedlings grace my compost every weekend in the spring?

The new blooms that appeared were dark bronze and mahogany, and a little yellow near the tips. These were growing in a sea of yellow rudbeckia.

When the blooms begin to fade, they dry at the tips and turn crispy, curling up. This happens on the yellow too, but the yellow color disguises it. The dark color emphasizes it. Right now, the rudbeckia is looking a little ragged at the end of the season.

I think I must go with the seed explanation. In reading the online information, I learn black-eyed susans are known as prolific seeders, and easily cross-breed. So, these must be the illegitimate offspring from someone in the neighborhood, maybe courtesy of the bumble bees?

For The Record:
  • Medium clay soil with organic amendments, on sloping yard
  • Mostly full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Aphid pests in the spring

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: Marigolds, mexican zinnia, canna, rudbeckia, zinnia, asters
  • Harvested: 2 peppers, 1 carrot

05 October 2013

Noshing On The Buddleia

It's been a wonderful month of travel and exciting adventures that have kept me away from the garden and the blog. Summer continues on well past its end, so every summer fun activity continues, too.

Last year I wrote about the white buddleia that sprang from nothing [posted 2012.08.13]. Due to the inactivity surrounding this new plant, I questioned its nickname butterfly bush. It simply did not attract butterflies.
This year, the plant is fuller after being chopped close to the ground last winter, and grew to about 5-feet in height (1.5m) and width. It apparently became more attractive to several nectar-loving creatures. At first, swallowtails appeared for a group buffet. After summer forged ahead, other smaller and lesser known winged visitors would take their turn for a snack. In September, a new day tripper arrived.
A clearwing moth bobbed in and out of the tuberous flowers, at first scaring me into thinking it was a giant bee, then thinking it a small hummingbird. Clearwings are known as 'hummingbird moths.'

Buddleia are endemic to four continents, but not Europe. My Buddleai davidii probably has roots in China. The flower clusters are not as densely packed together as other varieties seen, leading me to believe those other varieties to be highly cultivated. My plant responds well to deadheading, and to pruning in the spring. I tried and was fairly successful shaping it into a nice bush this year. My hungry visitors appreciated the work, too.

06 September 2013

President Lincoln's Cottage

Some friends had a Groupon to visit a historic site here in town that not many people know of. We arrived at the Soldiers' & Airmen's Home (now called the Armed Forces Retirement Home) in the northern section of Washington DC in time for our 3:00 tour of Lincoln's Cottage. In 1851, the private property that contained the gothic revival style cottage was purchased by the federal government.

The cottage was the first building on the property, and was once an assylum for old and disabled veterans (the Mexican War), then became more of a retirement home with additional buildings and dormitories constructed, most now over 100 years old. The funding for this first veteran's home mostly came from veterans themselves - not the federal government.

The cottage was a Camp David of the time, and Lincoln and Mary Todd were the first president and first lady to use it. Both wrote they liked the mountaintop retreat to get away from politicians, lobbyists, and the Washington summer heat.

During Lincoln's time, troops were stationed on the grounds, and a cemetery was visible burying the civil war dead. So Lincoln never escaped the war - he was always reminded of it in the front yard of his retreat.

Although not a well-known attraction for visitors, I was impressed at the history of the building. Equally impressive were some of the plants around the grounds - especially the large specimen trees that probably date back close to the property's origins.

A southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) must be over 30-feet high (9 m) at the back of the house. The porch held a view down the hill to Washington, the Potomac, and Virginia beyond. The darn trees are now big enough to block that view.

The Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americicana) can get up to 9-feet high (1 m). This one was probably 10-feet.

Instant hydrangeas were unnaturally packed into the circle near the entry walk in an area probably reserved for annuals. But someone forgot to take responsibility for watering them. Has anyone heard of hydrangeas being used for landscape mass plantings as bedding plants? What a shame.

For scale, a 6-foot high friend stands before a 50-foot high holly (15 m). I know not what type. American hollies do not grow that large to my knowledge. The white stone circular structure is an old water tower.

This tree interested the non-gardener friends on the tour, as it was nothing like anything seen before. We later found it is a Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca) native to the Atlas mountains of Algeria. The upper center branches were a little thin, probably due to some heavy snowfall, as Wikipedia says the boughs are not known for their strength. Blue color, very short needles, and cones that resemble a bee's nest all called attention to it.

I save the saddest story for last. This was another tree the non-gardeners were interested in, because it was again unfamiliar. I knew it was a redwood, but not sure of much more. No one believed me. "A redwood in Washington DC?" Further investigation shows it as one of the three true redwood species on earth: a fast-growing Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) native to China, and a 'critically endangered' species. Although fossil records were known, it was not 'discovered' living until the 1940's. Turns out that it is deciduous!

About 50-feet in height (15m) this one did not look happy and healthy. One of the older buildings is being renovated, and this tree falls just inside the construction area as delineated by the fence. I am sure soil compaction by construction materials and damage to trunk and lower branches by construction is helping it grow better, right?

Hope you enjoyed a trip through a different type of 'cottage' garden.

30 August 2013

They Look Like The Catalog!

Every year, we try out new recruits for our gardens. In 2013, catalog items that caught my eye and caught my wallet were listed in a February post [2013.02.16], and I am happy to report that we have a few rookies worth writing about.

The three year old seeds for veteran Canary Bird Zinnias from Baker Creek were planted again. Being yellow, they were placed in the front garden near the pink cleome to keep away from the yellow rudbekia in the side yard. They responded well again where the soil is luscious and sun is plentiful. In fact, a few popped up in other areas of the yard from last year's plants seed deadheading.

To keep the gardens from being monochromatic, the new pink Pinca zinnias were planted on the side yard with rudbeckia, with sloping terrain, where soil is still improving, and where sun is diminishing due to an ever expanding neighbor's tree. The beginning blooms are incredibly delicious, and one can get up close to them at side yard walkway. The pink color looks great next to my first year lavender Russian sage (not intentional, but I will take credit.)

To date, height is a short 24-inches (60 cm). Being in a mostly sunny area (as opposed to full sun) probably slowed their bloom time since the yellow Canary Birds in the front have been blooming for weeks. What stood out in the catalog photo was the ragged square-edged appearance of the petals. Happily, the 4-inch (10 cm) bloom matches the seed company's photo and description.

I have shied away from marigolds in recent years, just tiring of them. A photo of Tiger Eyes at Park Seed reminded me that they haven't been here for years. There were not many seeds in the packet that came, so only six plants were started with the remainder saved for next year. They are now at their peak, loving the slightly cool summer weather we have.

The marigolds have been religiously deadheaded, and have responded. They are my border guards, hugging the border edges here and there around the front yard garden. Compact, full, no pests, and lots of consistent intense-colored flowers make this one look happy. Sometimes marigolds can become large and gnarly, and tip over, but these have remained strong. The dark green luxurious looking foliage is an added bonus.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, zinnia, marigold, cosmos,
    rudbeckia, echinacea, sage, goldenrod, buddleia,
  • Harvested: 2 pepper, 4 tomatoes, 2 zucchini

25 August 2013

Vegetable Medley

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... for vegetables this year. As previously reported, the 2013 onions were the best ever. But, sorry to report, the 2013 tomatoes are the worst ever. I blame it on the weather - never the gardener.

Four tomato varieties were planted this year. The 'improved' Supersweet 100 cherry tomatoes were mostly unimproved. They attracted my usual 'blights and mites.' The only hope for these tomatoes is to plant early, grow quickly, and harvest as much as you can before the blights and mites set in. You gotta admit, the little buggers are sweet.

Fourth Of July tomato seeds were sent as a mistake by Burpee. They did not produce by the 4th, but at the end of July, along with the other tomato varieties. The smallish Black Velvet tomatoes were small and extremely rare as hardly any fruit set. The flavor was not too impressive. Finally, the Beefy Boy tomatoes could have used a few trips to the gym this year. Still, for the small sizes harvested, all tasted better than the supermarket varieties.

I haven't grown carrots in a long time due to the failed attempts forcing them into heavy clay soil. The soil is improved in the vegetable garden, so why not try again? And why not try Tendersnax? The best carrot ever pulled out of my garden had warts on it. Possible carrot problems include maggots, rust flies, nematodes, nothing causing warts. I see some discussion on heavy soil that might produce this condition and in extreme cases, additional legs. Some warts were cleaned off for the photo shoot.

First time growing zucchini for me this year produced these baseball bats. Sliced up, seasoned with oil, garlic, oregano, salt, and grilled. That took care of one fourth of one. Black Beauty is the name, and I find it is an heirloom variety. I see pickled zucchini in my future.

Mama don't let your cucumbers grow up … when you are on vacation. You get overstuffed pregnant blimps like this. Picklebush pickling cukes on bush plants were grown. The skins make them not so good for eating raw like regular cucumbers. And not being experienced with them and their coloring, I had a difficult time determining when they were ready for picking.